le tasting room

Loire wine tours, tastings, day trips from Paris & short breaks organised by experienced English wine trade professionals.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Vouvray 23rd February 2012

The weather has become milder again after the recent cold spell so things have resumed out and about in the vineyard.  Yesterday in Vouvray the pruners were out in teams sweeping through the vines in the drizzle.  Here vines are often spur pruned and are very low to the ground making it hard going on the back.

Up high on the plateau these freshly pruned vines are surrounded by flint stones sitting on the surface of the soil.

Pruners often work in teams which allows them to progress rapidly.

Sarments or vine prunings are often burnt which lessens problems with viruses and diseases spreading in the vineyard.

When older vines cease to be productive or have died due to disease they are replaced by young vines dotted in and around the established vineyards.

Bernard Fouquet was in the process of disgorging his sparkling Vouvray brut zero.  The wine is a 2007 and has wonderfully developed aromas on the nose and a fine mousse.  Bernard is careful to only add enough sugar to create 4 bars of pressure.  Around half a bar is lost during disgorging giving a wine with a final pressure of around 3.5 bars - fizzy but not explosive in the mouth.

We also took the opportunity to taste the 2011 wines of Domaine de Aubuisières with Bernard.   Much more open and floral than the 2010's, I think this vintage will be a winner with wine lovers.  Being a Chenin Blanc based wine, Vouvray can benefit from ageing although most of his young wine is sold and drunk young.  If only consumers would hang on to them for a while - the results can be stunning and the wines are not expensive.  

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Why take a wine tour in the Loire in 2012

The pretty village of Le Thoureil yesterday - a 10 minute walk from our home

What can you expect from the Loire?  First and foremost - the river itself.  The last 'wild river' in France, the Loire is 629 miles long (over 1000km).  Wide and shallow, it was the main means of transport in days gone by with all manner of boats carrying everything from textiles, charcoal, stone, sand and of course wine dominating the water before the railway came to the region in 1849.  The levy on the North side keeps it under control during the winter months (something that was introduced by Henry II in the 12th Century).  Although it still floods from time to time, the river could reach a width of 7km before this time.  If you come in from Paris on the train, don't expect to see vineyards as you reach Angers.  There are no vines planted between Angers and Saumur on the North of the river as the land is far too rich.  Instead you'll see flowers, maize, pears, apples and quinoa.

The river at Le Thoureil early morning in April 2011

The river at Le Thoureil February 2012 - a very different scene

All over the region you'll find beautiful architecture. Homes are built from local tuffeau limestone which was quarried over the centuries and also used to build the great chateaux of the region leaving thousands of kilometres of tunnels today used for the storage of sparkling wine (the Loire is France's second biggest producer of sparkling wine after Champagne).  In Angers the working slate mine provides the roof tiles that are so characteristic of the region.  

Each tile is individually hand cut and attached with copper nails on this historic building 

What about the vineyards?  Well, you can expect to find small estates that are often family run, unpretentious, unglamourous but real and welcoming.  Don't look for wineries with restaurants attached - with one or two rare exceptions they don't exist here in the Loire.  What you will find is a shared passion for wine, a welcoming smile and a relaxed attitude.  They don't call it la douceur Angevine for nothing - this expression sums up life in the Loire valley.  Big marketing budgets and fancy tasting rooms are unusual here but you can expect to be guided by the owner, the owners son, daughter or even grandma.  

Mathieu Vallée - owner of Chateau Yvonne in Saumur in Champigny.  He makes just 3 superb wines

Eddy Oosterlinck-Bracke makes what he calls 'noble sweet wines' in the Coteaux du Layon 

Sometimes you'll find something a little special for a different reason.  A beautiful chateau, great wine and a friendly owner who is happy to show you around and give you a glimpse into their life.  

Beautiful Chateau du Petit Thouars close to Chinon - a historic place that is also a home and makes great wines

 Chateau de Pimpéan - an ongoing restoration project, a stunning 15th century chapel, a lovely wine and a gregarious owner Maryse Tugendhat who loves to show visitors around

Last year we welcomed people from America, Russia, England, Holland, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, Sweden and France.  Some came for a relaxing day out - a change of pace from Paris, some were passing on their way down South.  Some had an in-depth knowledge of wine and others were complete beginners but they all shared the same passion and interest for a region that is the most diverse wine-making region in France.

Tasting a range of wines from the Loire valley with visitors from the US, Australia & UK

So, if you're contemplating a visit to France this year, why should you come and spend a day with us?  Wine is something that can be enjoyed by everyone.  No need to be an expert to take pleasure in spending a day here in the Loire valley.  So many subjects are touched by the business of wine - geology, geography, biology, chemistry, history, gastronomy. Sharing a glass of wine is the result of all of these things and we are lucky enough to be able to share them with you.

Enjoying an aperitif in the garden before lunch

What can you expect during a one day wine tour with us? We pride ourselves on providing a unique and personal wine experience and by the end of the day you'll have tasted a wide range of wines from a number of different appellations in the Loire valley.  You'll have a good understanding of French wine labelling, the different grape varieties planted in the region and the differences between them. You'll have enjoyed a home cooked 3 course lunch in our delightful barrel maturation cellar and have had the chance to retaste all the wines you have tasted during the morning with food.  You'll have the chance to enjoy one high quality wine visit during the afternoon. Best of all you'll have met other like minded people from other parts of the world who are here for the very same reason  - to have a lovely day out in the beautiful Loire countryside, taste some great wines, discover some local dishes and meet some great people.

Enjoying a relaxing lunch in the cellar with guests from Chicago

And why us rather than other people?  Well  - only our clients can tell you that.  I can tell you that we won't rush you - your time with us will be relaxed and leisurely.  We don't drive you around lots of  different wineries in one day (in fact we often have difficulty persuading our clients to leave the lunch table in order to meet our rendezvous in the afternoon!).  le tasting room is our home and we take great pleasure in welcoming you here as our guests.  Don't be mislead though - at the end of the day you'll have tasted a range of wines from no less than 7 different producers and have the opportunity to buy them from us at cellar door prices so whether you'd like to take a bottle or two back to enjoy during your stay in France or are looking to source wines for a party, event or wedding, we can help.

We've 25 years wine trade experience between us, speak good French and work closely with a large number of top quality producers in the region.

So, if you're like us and appreciate fine wine, great food and good company, we'd love to welcome you here; just a stone's throw from the river Loire.

The TGV offers an excellent service from Paris.  What's more; we'll collect you and deliver you back to the station inAngers for your return journey to the capital.

Whether you're a complete beginner or a dedicated oenophile; we have something to offer.  Don't take our word for it - see what our previous clients have to say about us on Tripadvisor and here are a couple of recent testimonials taken from our website.

'I had the most fantastic time with you, Nigel, and other guests, and on our day out and about having lunch and visiting wineries on our own!   It was simply the most perfect experience—the wine, the food, and the company.  Your home was true perfection- and I enjoyed listening to your experiences in the wine industry of the Loire Valley, and how you are trying to market and promote various vineyards in the region.    I would recommend this experience to anyone who enjoys learning about wine, eating great food (Cathy is a great cook!) and meeting new people!'  Amy Chicago Dec 2011
Thank you for giving us the very day we were looking for, the lunch was so very fresh and tasty and what a magnificent setting. As for the wines of the Loire I now have a much greater understanding and received an education in the history and wine styles of the region. Thank you for tailoring the day to suit those requests.
Your knowledge of 20 years in the wine industry clearly shows through during the day and the insight you have with the winemakers gave us a true feel of the Loire wines and the beautiful region.
The whole day was fabulous, Kate, Miles and I really had a great time and came away much better informed about the region and its wines.' Jonathan - Australia 2011

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Salons des Vins de Loire 2012

A few pictures taken at this year's Salon des Vins de Loire.  


Lionel Gosseaume of Domaine de Pierre.  We have been working with Lionel over the past year and regularly show his wines at our tastings.  This year I had the pleasure of helping him man the Domaine de Pierre stand during the Salon.  His Climat No 2 was Jim Budd's favourite wine of the Salon - a 50/50 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Meslier St François (a very rare grape variety that has all but disappeared in the Loire).  Fresh and crisp, the Sauvignon character is evident and the Meslier St François adds an exotic note - Poire William, orange flower water on the nose, pineapple and mango on the palate.

When time allowed I managed to nip out and try a few wines.  Pictured here are Sebastian du Petit Thouars and Michel Pinard of Château du Petit Thouars. Sebastian looks after the commercial side of the vineyard and Michel is the winemaker.  I was keen to try their Cuvée l'Amiral - a work in progress but one that is fascinating.  A 100% press wine from 2009 (this is very unusual as most producers will only use a small percentage of press wine in a blend to add structure and body), it's a big chunky Cabernet Franc at the moment but I could detect a glimmer of something really interesting.  It has a lovely smokey black fruit concentration on the nose and although the tannins are still big, they are not aggressive.  Can't wait to try it again in a another 6 months or so.

Elodie Peyrussie took us through the range at Domaine de la Noblaie.  A new wine for 2012 is a sparkling rosé called Mon Ange made from 100% Cabernet Franc.  It has lovely summer red fruits on the nose and is fresh and subtle on the palate.  She explained that they use the first 2 or 3 vines from each row at the bottom of the slope to provide the base wine because these are the ones that produce juice with high acidity which is perfect for sparkling wine. Aged for 24 months sur lattes it's a lovely addition to their range. 

Fabulous contemporary labels and whacky wines from Jean-François Mérieau.  I particularly liked the Sauvignon Tu le boa.  Allowed to oxidise naturally over a period of 5 years (sometimes referred to as a Vin de Voile), the resulting wine is sherry like and has aromas of beeswax, honey, nuts and dried fruits.  It would be delicious served at the end of a dinner with some aged Comté.

Great to catch up with Mathieu Vallée of Chateau Yvonne in Parnay (near Saumur).  His wines are produced in a much more classic style.  With just a few hectares of Chenin Blanc he makes a fantastic Saumur Blanc.  The 2010 has a beautiful rich colour and is rich, citric and delicious on the palate.  If I had my eyes shut I might even confuse it for a really good Burgundy.  His reds are equally good, full of concentration, spicy fruit and with great length - classy wines.

More tasting notes to follow.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Sweet Caroline 2004 - Les Griottes, Anjou

Something new over the weekend.  We shared a bottle of this extraordinary wine with friends who live just a few minutes away from this estate in the Layon.  The Domaine des Griottes is one of the leaders in the natural wine movement and to be honest I'm not really bowled over by the idea of natural winemaking, the results being extremely variable even from bottle to bottle. 

Our friends were kind enough not to make us taste it 'aveugle' because I fully admit that I would have seriously embarrassed myself.  I thought it resembled a Pineau des Charentes or a fortified wine of some kind.  Nothing of the sort - this is a Chenin Blanc made from super mature grapes, fermented very slowly over a long period of time and then aged in wood for 5 years in the style of a vin jaune.  The vines are 100 years old and the wine takes its name from the horse that is used in the vineyard, Caroline.

I absolutely love it.  It's exotic, full of quince and with some black tea and ginger notes.  It also has an aroma that reminds me of Cognac - hard to believe that it's only 13% alcohol and no hint of fortification.  We drank it as an apero but I think it would be fabulous with foie gras and pain d'epices too. 

For more information, loads of pictures and a much more in depth write up see Wine Terroirs Blog post.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Tarte aux Pralines Roses

Feeling inspired by the recent Masterchef series  in the UK with Michel Roux junior we had a go at his tarte aux pralines roses avec poires caramelisées yesterday.  I made the sweet pastry base and blind baked that while my son got set with the filling.  Temperature is of the essence here so it's essential to have a thermometer.  You need 250g of pink praline almonds and 250ml of cream (or creme fraiche).  You beat the pralines into submission with a rolling pin in a plastic bag (leaving small pieces not pulvarising them to a powder).  Then you mix with the cream, bring to the boil and when the temperature reaches 104° you whip the pan off the heat and pour the mixture (which by now is a vivid pink colour) into the pastry case which you refrigerate until set (several hours or over night).

Winter at last!

Finally it seems that Winter has arrived in the Loire valley.  We had a little snow a couple of days ago and temperatures dropped to minus 8 this morning.  These shots were taken first thing while I was walking the dog just by our house.  We are lucky enough to be situated just beside the GR3 - one of France's mapped walks.  Good news for the vines - a good cold snap kills off viruses and diseases.